Friday, July 19, 2013

New titles from Carolinas authors

New books out in July from Carolinas authors include, on the fiction side, a military thriller and a collection of stories populated by monsters. There’s nonfiction, too: a literature professor’s Civil War history and a history of the African American struggle for equal education in North Carolina.

Action in the novel “Shadow of the Corps” (Pegasus Crime; $24.95) grows from a Marine captain’s court martial following an Afghan village bombing. In this debut novel, Charlotte’s James M. DuPont writes of a world he knows. DuPont, now an airline pilot and Marine Corps reserve major, is a former Marine aviator and legal officer.

“North American Lake Monsters” (Small Beer Press; $16), a debut story collection from Asheville’s Nathan Ballingrud, offers readers dark, quirky stories that often include a monster or two. Ballingrud, a single dad, has worked as a cook on oil rigs, a bouncer at a strip club and a bartender in New Orleans. He’s now a waiter at Biltmore Estates.

Ballingrud won a Shirley Jackson award for one story in the collection, “The Monsters of Heaven,” a tale of a couple who are reeling from the disappearance of their young son when they find an otherworldly creature who seems like an angel. The award honors literature of psychological suspense, horror and dark fantasy.

In “America’s Longest Siege: Charleston, Slavery, and the Slow March Toward Civil War” (Overlook Press; $28.95), Joseph Kelly recounts the Union’s nearly two-year siege on Charleston’s harbor. Kelly, a College of Charleston literature professor, places the siege in the larger context of the city’s promulgation of slavery. A Publishers Weekly review lauds this book as a valuable addition to Civil War literature.

“Playing the Union’s two-year siege of the city’s harbor against what the author deems to be a far more disastrous siege – that of slavery on freedom – Kelly skillfully traces the development of the town’s views on slavery while simultaneously relating attempts to break down or bulwark the institution,” says Publishers Weekly.

Much has been written about school desegregation in North Carolina, but in a new history, Sarah Caroline Thuesen steps back to the Jim Crow years before integration. “Greater than Equal: African American Struggles for Schools and Citizenship in North Carolina: 1919-1965” (University of North Carolina Press; $45) examines a time when black citizens sought equal educational opportunity amid flourishing segregation.

Though readers may be familiar with some of her stories, such as the hostility that Dorothy Counts encounters as she integrates Charlotte’s Harding High in 1957, Thuesen, who teaches history at Guilford College, also explores an earlier time when even “separate but equal” was a radical concept.

Friday, July 5, 2013

N.C. authors recount the hunt for Che Guevara

Argentinian-born revolutionary Che Guevara was a physician, a gifted writer, a man who looked very good in combat fatigues.

Where he didn’t always excel, however, was as a military tactician. In “Hunting Che,” co-authors Mitch Weiss of Charlotte and Kevin Maurer of Wilmington explore one of America’s first U.S. Special Forces victories in a thriller about the Green Beret team that trained a group of Bolivians to hunt down Che.

At the heart of the story is a revolutionary leader both brilliant and flawed. The Green Berets taught Bolivian soldiers the skills they needed to capture Che, but it turns out that Che’s shortcomings made their job a lot easier.

Weiss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who works for the Associated Press in Charlotte, has co-authored two other nonfiction books on elite U.S. military teams. He wrote this one with Maurer, co-author of the 2012 bestseller “No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden.”

Much, of course, is already known about Che, one of the Cuban revolution’s key figures. But Weiss and Maurer wrote “Hunting Che” (Berkley Caliber; $26.95) after finding little about the Special Forces mission that led to Che’s capture and death.

After serving in several roles under Fidel Castro, Che Guevara left Cuba in 1965 to create revolution elsewhere. In 1967, after Pentagon officials learned he was in Bolivia, they plotted to eliminate him.

Weiss and Maurer show how the U.S. counterinsurgency operation succeeded without a large-scale commitment of American soldiers. But they find that Che’s mistakes – alienating Bolivians who could have aided him, picking the wrong area to invade – also helped doom his endeavor, almost from the start.

The authors relied on a variety of government documents and newspaper sources, as well as interviews with key players. Early on, they traveled to Bolivia, where they talked with the Bolivian officer who helped capture Che.

When Weiss began researching, he told me, he saw Che as a freedom fighter and champion of the poor – a view that has made Che’s fight-the-power image ubiquitous on T-shirts and other memorabilia. But the more Weiss learned, the more his view changed. In power with Castro, Che was also brutal.

“Most people who wear Che’s T-shirts,” he says, “would not want to live in the country he promised.”